WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 -- The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday refused a request by members of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple to hear an appeal of a federal judge's foreclosure order.

The justices meet in conference to decide which cases among hundreds will be granted a hearing during its spring session, but did not include the Baptist Temple case among those it choose to hear.

The Baptist Temple was appealing a judge's order that U.S. marshals seize church property to settle a $6 million tax debt.

Roughly 80 church members were attending a worship service Tuesday morning when the senior pastor, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, received word of the Supreme Court decision on his cell phone, the Indianapolis Star reported.

"I fully expect the federal marshals to come in at (any) given time" Dixon said "We're going to mourn the death of religious liberty."

Two members of the high court, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, had already turned down the church's previous request for an emergency stay of the foreclosure.

There was speculation that once the possibility of a hearing by the high court was erased, federal marshals would move quickly to seize the church's property. However, there was no immediate sign of police or federal agents around the church.

U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson repeatedly has said the marshals will seize the church when the timing will minimize any risk of injuries.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the church owes about $6 million in back taxes, interest and penalties because church leaders have refused to collect employee withholding and Social Security taxes.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ordered members to vacate the church by Nov. 14 and gave federal marshals permission to use any necessary force to take possession of the building.

As members of the church have maintained a protective vigil inside the temple for the past nine weeks, the issue has attracted national attention from various religious and anti-tax groups.

Church members have argued that the federal government has violated its constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Moreover, pastor Gregory A. Dixon has said that since temple members recognize Jesus Christ as the only authority over the church, the withholding of taxes would impose a secular control.

Founded in 1950, the 1,000-member Baptist Temple owns 22 acres and has a half-dozen pastors on staff. The church Web site describes the congregation as "an Unregistered Baptist congregation whose head is not the state, but the Lord Jesus Christ. The Indianapolis Baptist Temple does not participate in government programs."

The Web site adds: "The Indianapolis Baptist Temple is a New Testament congregation made up of scripturally baptized believers. We exist to exalt Jesus Christ, edify the saints through the Word of God and evangelize our world. We must not veer from our God-given mandate.

"The Indianapolis Baptist Temple is congregational in practice which simply means the people under the leadership of the Pastor are responsible for all decisions, activity and service.

"A New Testament congregation should be militant, which simply means believers should aggressively 'contend for the faith' as they exalt Christ, edify saints and evangelize the world."

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad